Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

Darius Soriano —  March 3, 2013

Records: Lakers 29-30 (9th in the West), Hawks 33-24 (4th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (8th in the NBA), Hawks 102.8 (13th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.6 (18th in the NBA), Hawks 101.2 (10th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Hawks: Jeff Teague, DeShawn Stevenson, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Hawks: Lou Williams (out for the season)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have inched their way back to only a game under .500 on the season by winning 4 of their last 5 and 10 of their last 15. Maybe even more impressive is that they’ve not lost 2 in a over a month, finding their stride (and a way to win games) right as they’ve needed to.

The story on what they’re doing well is pretty much known at this point but bears repeating: they’ve been much better at sharing the ball on offense and, through better performance on that side of the ball, have found a way to limit their exposure to what they don’t do well on defense. They’ll still struggle with the P&R on D, but as long as they can continue to control tempo on offense and not be forced into bad shots, they can limit the turnovers and long jumpers that fuel opponents’ transition chances.

Offensively they remain a team that’s finding a balance as Kobe wing post ups and isolations and the Nash/Howard pick and roll are both staples capable of producing good sets. Add in those pillars with a resurgent bench of Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, and Antawn Jamison and the team has finally seemed to sort out roles and find a comfort zone in how they need to play each night. There still needs to be a better understanding of how the entire team can work in and out of their sets in ways that complement each other — Kobe isos often don’t lead to passes that fuel P&R’s or vice versa — but they’re getting closer.

The Hawks Coming in: Tonight is game 5 of a 6 game road trip for the Hawks — a trip in which they’ve 3 of 4 so far, with their only loss coming to the Suns on Friday. In their last 10 games, they’re 7-3 and have been playing some pretty good ball with wins over Jazz, Mavs, and Grizzlies in that stretch.

Key to their strong play is their big three of Jeff Teague, Josh Smith, and Al Horford. All three have been playing some of their best ball of the season, posting impressive numbers and having huge impact on each game they play. Horford’s numbers have been particularly impressive over their last 10, scoring nearly 23 points a night with 11 rebounds, over 3 assists and over 3 combined blocks and steals. When you add Horford’s all around play to Smith’s 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists, this is a fantastic front court duo that is playing as well or better than any other in the league. As for Teague, he’s really come into his own lately, scoring 17 points a night on 48% shooting and handing out 9 assists over that same stretch. He’s been doing a great job of balancing his own scoring with playmaking for others and operating as a better floor general overall.

This solid play, however, does look to be the Hawks ceiling and they’ll have some hard decisions to make in the off-season. Smith, though playing fantastic now, is a free agent and has already acknowledged his desire to earn a max contract. Teague will also be a free agent (though restricted) and he could command a big offer sheet on the open market that Hawks can either match or not. With Horford being the only major player under contract for next season, Atlanta will have a ton of cap space to make a run at other free agents (including Dwight Howard) but will have to decide what type of team they want to build for next year and the future.

All that said, this year they’re showing that even by trading Joe Johnson, they’re right back in the mix as a playoff team and one that can even have home court in the 1st round. They’ve done quite well this year and GM Danny Ferry and head coach Larry Drew deserve a lot of credit for that.

Hawks Blogs: Check out HawksHoop and Peach Tree Hoops for good analysis and news on this team.

Keys to game: With the Hawks playing as well as they have been (excluding the loss to the Suns), the Lakers are going to have their hands full on both ends of the floor. They are a top 13 team in offensive and defensive efficiency and offer anchors on both sides of the ball that the Lakers are going to have to counter to get the win.

On offense, the main advantage the Lakers have is with Kobe Bryant. The Hawks don’t have a great option to defend him and will have to rely on the trio of DeShawn Stevenson, Devin Harris, and Dhantay Jones to get the stops they need against Kobe. With #24 playing at the level he has been lately, none of this trio is particularly intimidating on that end of the floor and he should look to attack whoever is defending him in order to get himself and his teammates going by creating good shots. If Kobe can work the post well he can force double teams and then he can shift to the weak side of the floor in the P&R and let Nash and Howard try to get going running that action.

They will have their challenges in the P&R, however, as the Hawks possess some good ingredients to slow this action. Al Horford is one of the better (and smarter) defensive big men in the league and he has the ability to hedge and recover in a way that thwarts this action (not to mention how Horford can also play some very good post defense on Howard). Add in the mobile Josh Smith roaming on the weak side to challenge the dive man and any shot taken at the rim and Howard is going to have a tough time getting on track when diving. That said, if Dwight sets good screens he can free up Nash to try and get into the lane to either get a shot off for himself or draw enough attention to hit open shooters outside. The Lakers’ success on this action, then, will likely be determined on whether Earl Clark and Ron (not to mention Jamison and Meeks) can hit their jumpers. If they do, the Lakers can take control offensively and everything will fall into place. If they can’t, don’t be surprised to see the offense struggle.

Defensively, the Lakers will have to deal with a strong P&R attack that the Hawks offer. Teague and Horford make a great pairing in this action with the PG’s ability to drive or hit his jumper and Horford a dual threat of popping out for the open J or diving to the rim where he can also score inside. Horford is particularly dangerous as a jump shooter so Howard will need to hedge on Teague with the back side defenders rotating to Horford to disrupt his shot or feinting in that direction to give Dwight enough time to recover on his own. Either way, communication will be key and the rotations will need to be sharp.

Josh Smith and his all purpose game are also a big key to the Hawks attack and slowing him down is important. Smith is an excellent passer from all over the floor and his ability to play high low or pick out cutters from the perimeter can really fuel their offense. Smith’s ability to drive and work close to the basket to finish must be respected, so keeping him on the perimeter by playing off him is the best strategy. However, since he’s such a good passer, the off-ball defense must be very good as there will be plenty of passing angles for him to exploit if he’s receiving soft coverage out there. Smith too is fantastic in the open court both as a finisher and as someone who can lead the break himself. When he gets defensive rebounds, he is a threat to push the ball himself and the Lakers must respect that ability hustle to get back when he starts to make a push.

This game offers the Lakers their first chance to get back to .500 since last calendar year (December 28th). The Hawks are playing well, but this is a corner the Lakers need to turn sooner rather than later if they expect to keep their playoff hopes alive. Because regardless of what the team in front of them do, the Lakers need to take care of business on their end and control what they can by winning their own games.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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108 responses to Preview and Chat: The Atlanta Hawks

  1. Lakers all the way baby! Who knows we may be 6th seed. Looking for Kobe to have a monster game today but also looking for Metta to wake up!

    By the way watching the Heat/Knicks game. I don’t usually complain about refs, but the Heat are allowed to bulldoze & murder players fouling but you better not let a fingertip touch Lebron! I can clearly see why his stats are as they are. Not that he’s not phenominal because he IS, but he gets way more help than Kobe. If Kobe got the same calls on a regular he’d average 40 points a game.

  2. Obviously, every game matters at this point, but this game is one the team really needs.

    The Lakers were the only NBA team that didn’t send a rep to the Sloan Sports Anaytics Conference. I get that the Busses probably didn’t want to do something like that so soon after thier father’s death, but the Lakers should have had someone there.

  3. Just tuned in to Knicks/cHeat long enough to see Lebron pull down Chandler’s shoulder in the air, in a pivotal possession, with no foul. Lebron never fouls, don’t you know? He’s just so good at body control! /ESPN (the S stands for “Shill”)

  4. LeBron is head and shoulders above the rest of the league right now.

    Hence, I don’t understand why he needs all the help. JORDAN didn’t get the whistle that James gets, and Jordan got a better whistle than anyone in recent memory.

  5. Wow until Darious mentioned i never realized the Lakers havent loss 2 in a row in over a month. About Lebron? Hehe remember when he had that 7 or 8 game span he didnt got a single foul called against him? WOW what control. I feel good about this game, if the Lakers keep doing what they doing i see no reason why we would lose this game but i been wrong before with this team lol.

  6. Kobe Alert: KB’s 33 point performance against the Wolves was his 417th 30+ game of his career (the Lakers have won 64% of those games). With his 2 steals Thursday, Kobes became the 15th player to get 1800. KB needs 12 FGAs tonight to catch John H for 5th all time. He needs 8 Def Rebounds to match Larry Nance for 63rd. Just 330 more points to the Big Dipper.

  7. Tough game tonight! Lakers really need this one, so hopefully they will come out with some urgency and not fall behind early.

    Have a question for anyone… I know that I can be a homer when talking about any Lakers player, but I hope that isn’t the case here. I jumped into a debate about Hakeem versus Kareem. I don’t think that this comparison is even close. Kareem dominates this in every single statistical category except blocks and steals. Hakeem averaged .4 more blocks and .8 more steals than Kareem for their careers. He also has 2 DPOY awards to Kareem’s zero. However, Kareem has 6 MVPs, 6 titles, and 2 Finals MVPs. (14 years apart!) Am I being a homer for dismissing this as ridiculous? I personally believe that the only debate should be whether or not KAJ is the GOAT- not just the greatest center.

  8. LeBron gets the kind of love Jordan got, for sure. The only other player to get that love was Wade… whoops, they’re on the same team now.

    I wonder if there’ll ever be some sort of a memoir from the refs after all’s said and done and really talk about the refs… other than Donaghy’s, of course.

  9. Who cares about the Heat, we have our own business to take care of.

    As for our Lakers, i cant remember when was the last time we were at .500. Seems like light years ago.

  10. KenOak, I think the only way Hakeem could be even compared to Kareem is if we are factoring out longevity and number of championships and only focusing on their peak performances, especially if we try to simulate a one-on-one scenario somehow. Then again, if we somehow count ‘relevance today’ Hakeem might have an edge as we hear about players training with Hakeem, but not with Kareem (at least not with much success).

    It’s much like comparing Kobe and Wade as of this moment. Unless Wade adds a few more rings with LeBron that is.

    Now, off-topic, my only wish is to have Kobe meet LeBron & Wade in the finals and WIN. That will settle a LOT of arguments and give me much satisfaction.

  11. Where is tonight’s Robert Sacre alert?

  12. Rusty Shackleford March 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    If the Lakers got rolling and made it to the Finals against the Heat the NBA’s head would collectively explode. As much as the Thunder are the NBA’s favorite child in the West I have no doubt that would draw the highest ratings of any NBA Finals series ever.

    Coming back to reality – a win tonight gets the Lakers back to .500. A month ago that seemed an impossibility. I know there is Horford, Smith and the rest of the starters but they need to make sure they don’t let Lou Williams get going. He can score 25 off the bench with his eyes closed.

  13. Not a full alert, because that is someone else’s job, however I think Robert Sacre is about 4-5 thousand towel waves behind where John Salley was at this point in the 2000 season. Now I have been thinking about “results”, and I do not think we can base the relative skill of these two towel wavers simply based on quantity. You see Salley played for Phil, and with Kobe, Shaq, and Glenn Rice. He clearly had a better “opportunity” as a towel waiver than does Sacre currently. Further, Sacre is just now developing his style and like most Laker things, his towel waiving is a work in process. I therefore think it is a little shallow for anyone to automatically consider Salley the better waiver : ) I think we should sign Sacre to a multi year deal to show confidence, and because inconsistency and turmoil is the last thing we need in the waiving area : )

  14. Rusty,

    Lou’s ACL has provided all the defense needed to contain him for the rest of the season.

  15. Huge game for Clarksanity. He’s been slumping lately and going against smith and horford is a challenge for anybody. Need a big game from Clark tonight defending and rebounding.

  16. Love that Dwight just told MWP to pass the ball after that turnover there. Just a bone-headed play when all he had to do is give the ball to Nash.

  17. Josh Smith used Ron’s very own Pickpocket Technique against him.

  18. Howard with the steal to Kobe who dribbles behind the back dishes to Clark for the slam dunk.

  19. Kobe on fire tonight. Why is he benching starters at 6 minute mark? Confusing subs. Your on a run so you sub out guys?

    Nash already with 3 turnovers again.

  20. At a certain point, don’t you have to admit that, against certain teams, this small, Clark at the “five” lineup is not going to work? Even Sacre would offer more resistance than AJ is right now.

  21. Every team is runnin against us. It looks like they got the memo Lakers suck at transition defense.

  22. Stat of the game so far–seven freaking first quarter turnovers. Even though ATL hasn’t punished LA too much, that is simply too many empty possessions.

  23. Dwight looks super low energy tonight.

  24. Metta is a joke of a player.

  25. Metta is a mess right now. Dwight gets a T for complaining to the refs. Hawks lead by 4. Ugh

  26. @Joe
    What game are you watching? Dwight is playing with plenty of energy and has been pretty active…

  27. lol @ ken comment

    Metta has too much confidence for his own good.

    I think Steve Blake is a better player than Steve Nash at this point of his career.

  28. @KenOak this game, I have been watching him casually jog up and down the court, not close out on his guy if he elects to shoot a jump shot, and plant himself in the middle of the lane on the offensive end and wait for the ball, with zero movement.

  29. 8 minutes with no Kobe? Nice job coach.

  30. haha I dont know why d’antoni wanted to have blake, nash and meeks out there before.

  31. The Substitution pattern is Weird, Kobe was out for a long time, now Earl Clark is out for a while.

  32. How has this set of Laker announcers lasted so long? They are annoying & very pessimistic!

    Go Lakers, I’m loving the energy!

  33. “I love desserts” LOL your right kobemoney.

  34. Kobe and Dwight have to be the only legit stars who fail to get superstar calls now. Long gone are the days where they get anticipation foul calls like Lebron does. Refs swallowing their whistle plenty with Lakers.

  35. Twelve (!) first half turnovers is the only thing that stood between LA and a double-digit lead.

    The Blake-Nash-Meeks-Jamison-Dwight lineup has looked good the few times we have seen it this year. That’s the one lineup LA can put out there that should feel familiar to Dwight from his ORL days—one big and four guys that can shoot the three….They are at a disadvantage on defense–but ATL didn’t punish them for it….

    On that subject–is it possible that ATL is the most-undisciplined playoff team in the league? I thought we would see about twice as many post-ups out of the Hawks’ offense–really bailing LA out by jacking jumpers.

    Kobemoney—You really need to listen to some of the other teams’ announcers. You will quickly realize that the Lakers have a pretty good crew—at least they aren’t whining about the refs every three seconds like other teams’ home announcers.

  36. Kevin: Kobe has never received what I would call SuperStar calls. Shaq did not get them either. The last Laker who did was Magic. In fact the Magic, Bird, MJ era was the peak of the SuperStar call. Durant and LBJ seem to be reviving it.

  37. Dwight is getting his ops tonight, just not converting consistently. Fortunately, he’s controlling the paint defensively. Jamison just knows how to get buckets.

    Two foolish plays by 2 Vets at the end of the half by the Hawks (The jumper by Harris when he should’ve played for the last shot and the foul by Smith on Kobe as if the Hawks had a foul to give).

  38. Sweet Nash .. Sweet

  39. I wonder if Metta now realizes that if he gives the ball up to Nash that he will get it back?

  40. Pretty move by Kobe with the left hand layup.

  41. @kenoak metta will probably forget next game.

  42. Kwame is probably watching the game saying “Dwight just cant catch ball” lol

  43. To Robert a few posts up: Kobe got a LOT of superstar calls from around 2001-2004, around the time of his trial he seemed to lose favor with the refs (or it could have been that weird season, or his feuds with Shaq/Phil, or something totally else). And I may have to burn my homer card here, I didn’t like them even when they were in his favor, because treating superstars like precious glass dolls just makes them do stupid stuff like dive toward the hoop, absorb contact, and expect the whistle. That’s not fun to watch, and it’s bad basketball.

    Oh wait, did I just sum up 40% of LeBron’s game? Didn’t mean to.

  44. Lakers looking pretty good on both ends of the floor after cleaning up the tos against a playoff bound team. Just saying that and the Hawks down by 9 team needs to settle down is a loong way to be over.

  45. Mammmbaaaaaa!!!!!!

  46. KenOak…

    For many years I thought that Jerry West was the best player I had ever seen. Kareem’s dominance and longevity convinced me that he was the G.O.A.T. Nothing that Jordan, Kobe or LeBrawn have done since has changed that opinion.

    Caveat: I think Kobe is the greatest Laker of all time because he has been a Laker for his entire career.

  47. Kobe with a huge 3 at the buzzer to end the 3rd quarter.

  48. Wow where will we be without KOBE! (In future).

    Dwight on the sideline as if that shot from Kobe was no big deal????????

  49. Ok, now im starting to worry

  50. Dwight could have lowest IQ in NBA Leads NBA by far in offensive fouls. should go to college next time.

  51. Kobemoney: Dwight hasn’t been the same since Kobe was demonstrative after he missed a lob. Dwight usually tanks when a teammate gets on him, especially if it’s Kobe.

  52. Man sometimes we just are not a smart team, what the hell.

  53. Get Metta out of the game. Embarrassing. Let’s not blow this one guys.

  54. Unbeliavable…

  55. Does this team realize how absolutely important this game is fro the standings, getting to 500 finally and momentum against OKC?20 fn turnovers

  56. 14 tos from our big 3

  57. Nash is really old. Gonna be Kobe against 5 tonight. No help from others.

  58. I can’t even look at Ron without the word AMNESTY coming to mind. He is an albatross of a player and contract.

  59. Fern they do but Nash has 5 or 6 TO a game and Dwight can only make dunks and commit fouls. They are what the are.

  60. Ammesty that!! Lol

  61. Kobe might kill this game. He refuses to pass the ball.

  62. WOW KOBE SMASH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  63. Kobe now 1 for 6 this quarter. He has to share the ball.

  64. Horrible non foul and its goin to be Hawks ball

  65. That was 2 fouls on kobe. If it was lebron, he would have gotten the foul.

  66. Wow, Kobe is going to get a lot of heat for this one if we lose.

  67. Kobe’s playing as young as ever. He’s playing for more than a ring he’s playing for Dr. Buss.

  68. It really pisses me off when Kobe is aggressive going to the basket and still can’t get a call!

  69. Man you can’t win games going 1 on 5 over and over. Please!

  70. Such a bad sequence for the officials and instant replay. Kobe got fouled so give the ball to he Hawks!! NBA has to change that rule.

  71. Funky Chicken March 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Dwight may not like playing with Kobe, but since the break he is getting a PhD in “how to be a champion” from #24.

  72. KOBEEEEEEE. So clutch..

  73. High IQ Dwight, pay attention!

  74. @ Ken we dont have a choice 1) he’s the only guy that can create his shot and break his guy off the dribble and 2) he is our best player.

  75. Kobe gives the Lakers a one point lead, just need one stop and the get it. Lakers win and back to .500

  76. Yesssssssssssss!!!! Whewwww!!!

  77. Kobe is awesome! Winning layup! Team gets the stop at the end!!! Just win baby!!

  78. Thank you Smith. Thank you Smith.

  79. Kobe was guarded by Smith all night he was goin to exploit that.

  80. Too bad Houston beat Dallas, otherwise would have been a perfect day…

  81. Good win! Some bad defense down the stretch from both teams…

  82. wooooah. cardiac finish. now 30-30. every game counts –
    good job Lakers.

  83. Whew! Little bit of luck and lots of Mamba in this one. Win and move on.

  84. They put a big on him all night of course he is going to attack he cooked them to quote him, 13 points in the 4th and people still b and moan. Back at 500 babyyyyyy

  85. Steve Blake has COMPLETLY changed my view on him since returning. Great awareness

  86. Almost stop a heartbeat when J Smoove was about to throw in a dunk or layup or whatever. That is a flat out fumble. 30-30 0.500 ALAS!!

  87. Funky Chicken March 3, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Got lucky on that one. Dwight’s defense down the stretch was abominable. If he had 1/10th Kobe’s heart he would be the league’s best player. As it is, he is basically Tyson Chandler without the basketball IQ.

  88. Tony I know but you just can’t bank on that every game. Good coaches like Pop double in those situations. But we will take it tonight,

  89. It is now a 22 game season!

  90. For good or bad we have to live and die with Kobe at the end of the game he is our best and he had a good mismatch and he was going to win or lose this game no matter what, no PJ and no MDA was not going to change that. He was on a mission. One of those ” aint trusting nobody tonight” games. We got the win thats all that matters.

  91. Kobe, got a make up for the awful non call than change of the out of bounds play. So that kind of evened out a bit…

    good win, but….Needs to be a little bit more diversified on offence at the end. if they needed help from someone else there is no one warmed up to do anything, as almost no one but Kobe touched the ball at the end of the game. Notice how many weapons Atlanta had at the end, when you think of guys that had delivered during the game…Korver and Harris and Horford and to a lesser extent Teague and Smith. and for the lakers its just one guy..Nash must feel really weird about just taking himself out of the game for the last 5 mins or so.

  92. Talk about a lucky win. Hawks run the SAME play twice and almost win if J Smith hadn’t bobbled the ball. Horrible defensive awareness!

    Win is a win at this point in the season I guess…

  93. Referee strange calls was THE FIRST COMMENT today! It’s so obvious now that Kobe doesn’t get calls. I don’t expect superstar calls but I expect fair calls. He gets murdered nightly, but I bet that just makes him hungrier & stronger.

    You can’t keep a Mamba down!

  94. I believe the Lakers could and should win at least 15 of those 22 remaining games. We absolutely needed this win tonight tough tough game ahead.

  95. For those who were complaining about Ron in this game, I think Korver didn’t score another basket when Ron was switched on to him.

    And that big 3 reminds me of 2010 NBA Finals.

  96. @Ken I agree, I wish Dantoni was more of an X & O guy. I found it odd he took Howard out with under 6 mins to go and ATL gets back to back lay ups in the paint and he brings Howard right back in. Was he tired?…nonetheless hopefully Ibaka is suspended for the OKC game lol, at this point I don’t care how the wins come just keep them coming.

  97. Feels nice to be at 500 again, finally. Won’t last too long because we know OKC is going to pound us Tuesday in their home building, looking for revenge. But anyway, it is nice to be 500. I think the Rockets and Jazz are going to be too hard to catch. I think are best shot is catching the Warriors who aren’t playing well.

  98. Joe M dont be so pessimist please, tough game but its winnable, its not like we are the washington generals

  99. Fern about 2 weeks ago I saw a stat that showed Kobe was shooting around 20% in the last 2 minutes if close games thus year. Point is no one can get a shot as well as Kobe but scouts know that and double him. If the Lakers had a strong coach they would play off that and get wide open shots like Atlanta was getting.

    It worked tonight but only a Smith fumble keep it a win.

  100. @Ken
    The problem is that tonight they *weren’t* doubling Kobe. If they were doubling him, then he would have kicked to the open guy. Everyone else was having a tough time getting shots tonight Ken and that’s why Kobe was going iso against Josh Smith because it was a mismatch.

  101. Ken the Lakers have been doing that a lot this year thats why Nash is playing off the ball most of the time bit this was a game that Kobe took it upon himself to decide and when he is in that mode PJ himself wont make him change that. We been seen it for 17 years, there are games when Kobe is going all out, this season how many times he given up the ball down the stretch? A LOT of times but obviously he wanted the team to get back at .500.

  102. Thank you Kenoak, they got a big on single coverage 99% of the game. He took Josh Smith to school over and over the whole game, but hey some people are never satisfied.

  103. I’d like to see better coaching too but I agree tonight Kobe was single covered. He’s shown he’ll pass late this year, most recently to nash against dallas. Both those kobe drives could’ve been and 1′s.

  104. Not doubling a player of Kobe’ caliber is basically telling him ” i dare you to beat us”

  105. Kobe has been and will always be the best player. No one has the guts or drive. Just not sure if it will work in playoffs once they get there. Bit to predictable.

  106. Joe M…I’m not conceding anything to OKC. They can be beat.